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Missing Insulation and Steam Trap Failures: The Hidden Fires that Need to Be Doused!

The energy industry is booming. It still surprises me when I hear the phrase, “I can’t worry about insulating — I have too many fires that have to be put out.”

If I told you tomorrow that after a comprehensive survey of your facility, you were losing $50K a month in energy dollars, would you want to smother that fire? If I told you that the estimated return on investment for an insulation project is 15 months, would you issue a purchase order immediately? If your answer is no or you aren’t sure, then you are not alone. In many commercial buildings with famous addresses in New York City the mechanical spaces and boiler rooms are over 100 degrees ambient. I have been in buildings where the engineers warn that you can only spend five minutes in the work area before you need to come out for air. These properties are paying approximately $55 per MMBTU for steam during peak heating months. As a property manager or owner, it is your responsibility to reduce the energy consumption of your building and create a safe work environment.

Start with a comprehensive insulation energy assessment. This assessment looks at the following facts: What is uninsulated? How big are the steam components, tanks and piping? How hot does the steam run and what are the hours of operation? The MMBTU cost of steam will be factored in as well as any incentives for which the building or campus is eligible. Energy.gov features a technical brief that takes you through the manner in which you calculate your MMBTU cost: Knowing Your True Cost of Steam.

The insulation energy assessment will take into consideration your current steam trap survey. If you do not have a current steam trap survey, I encourage you to get this done right away. As the data emerges, it will be clear what your building is losing in terms of energy dollars. The pipe insulation and removable insulation cost will be factored and your ROI will most likely be under three years. In New York City and any other metro area, the ROI is realized at or under a year. If there is an incentive involved, your ROI could be less than a year!

Okay! So you took my advice and completed the proposed insulation scope. That must mean that you also followed up and got that steam trap survey I have been hounding you about! With all the traps tagged and identified, your blocked and failed traps fixed and replaced, and your assemblies outfitted with removable insulation, it’s time to analyze the findings and talk about steam trap monitoring.

The cost of steam varies throughout the country greatly. MMBTU costs can be as low as $5 per MMBTU in Vermont and as high as $55 per MMBTU in New York City. If it is reported in your steam trap survey that you have had blocked or failing traps that have gone unnoticed for a period of time, there have been losses in terms of energy waste. Your trap survey may have calculated these losses. Most facilities do not have a current survey in place so the failing traps have been inefficient for years.

After understanding what traps deal with high-pressure steam and/or are hard to access, steam trap monitoring on those components will eliminate the guessing game. By giving the building engineer access to a web based portal, trap temperatures can be viewed at any time. After setting the parameters, alerts will be sent to the facilities team any time the temperature goes outside the levels that have been deemed healthy. Not only are temperatures being evaluated, but energy use is also being tracked. Monthly reporting will calculate the claims made on the insulation energy assessment. If you have energy related goals that need to be proven, the monthly calculations you receive will break down the savings you have earned since the installation of the insulation. If there are any steam trap failures detected, the summary will present the savings realized from the exposure of the anomaly.

The next time you are forecasting your energy conservation measures, consider insulation and a steam trap survey. Once you know where you stand, you will be able to see these potential winners for meeting your energy related goals. Removable insulation and wireless steam trap monitoring can be the unforeseen heroes in your facility.

Suzanne Rowe Barrett is a senior regional sales manager and partner at ThermaXX.

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